Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Miller, Tebow, Cooper

1 » Former Florida Gators student-athlete Ryan Lochte, a six-time Olympic medalist who is arguably the best male swimmer in the United States, received Kelly Anderson’s nomination for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award, which will be announced by the publication on Dec. 6. “Lochte may soon leave a mark on the sport that’s far more permanent than fading footprints on the pool deck,” Anderson wrote about her nomination. Lochte is the second former Florida athlete to receive a nomination for Sportsman of the Year. Former Gators striker Abby Wambach, the leader of the U.S. in the 2011 Women’s World Cup was touted by SI’s Chris Mahr on Nov. 1.

2 » Former Florida forward Udonis Haslem, one of two ex-Gators on the Miami Heat last season, told reporters Thursday that teammate guard Mike Miller had hernia surgery a few days ago and will miss at least two months of action. “I know Mike. He’s a strong guy, he’s going to stay positive and he’s going to get back as soon as he can,” Haslem said, according to the Associated Press. “The key with Mike is, we’ve got to fight him not to get back too fast. He’s going to want to be out there. He’s going to want to play. He’s got to just pace himself and get healthy.” Miller, who was supposed to be a key part of Miami’s team but only saw action in 41 regular season games last season due to a number of injuries, may have sealed his fate with the Heat. He could be a victim of the NBA’s new amnesty clause, which allows each team to waive one player and not have his contract count against their salary cap.

3 » One night before the Denver Broncos captured their fourth consecutive win, quarterback Tim Tebow addressed the team at the request of head coach John Fox. The Denver Post reports that Tebow’s speech included a quote from the Bible: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This hit home with his teammates, notably rookie linebacker Von Miller, one of the team’s best players this season. “He said iron sharpens iron and men sharpen other men. And I think that’s totally true,” he said. “He gave us a great speech. We came out fired up. And that was a wrap.” Tebow told the paper that he was honored to be asked by Fox to speak to the team. “It was a powerful speech. It was motivating. You had guys cheering by the end of the speech,” tight end Dante Rosario told NFL Network.

4 » Wide receiver Riley Cooper is set to make his third-straight start for the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday in place of injured starter Jeremy Maclin and has performed quite admirably during his first two appearances., catching eight balls for 146 yards and a touchdown. He spoke to NFL Network a few days ago about how comfortable he has become in the offense catching passes from QB Vince Young. “Being the fourth guy, I was with Vince a lot, especially during training camp because I ran with the twos,” he said. “We have a lot of chemistry. We were in the huddle a lot together. He’s one of my really good friends, and I love the fact that he keeps throwing the ball up to me and allowing me to make plays.” You can watch the rest of Cooper’s “Around the League” interview by clicking here.

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FOUR BITS: Ingram, Warren, Hill, Cooper

1 » Unfortunate news for former Florida Gators tight end Cornelius Ingram, who was waived off the Detroit Lions practice squad Wednesday. Ingram is once again a free agent and continues to rehabilitate his knee after multiple ACL surgeries and injuries.

2 » The New England Patriots re-signed former Gators defensive lineman Gerard Warren on Tuesday, a move that had been expected most of the season. He was previously released from the team in order to make room for a third tight end but is now back with the organization he played for in 2010.

3 » Former Florida safety Will Hill, who left school a year early to turn pro and was neither selected in the 2011 NFL Draft nor signed by a team as an undrafted free agent, agreed to a deal with the Arizona Rattlers of the AFL, the team announced on Wednesday. “I’m excited to get out on the field,” said Hill in the team’s official release. “I’m ready to get out there and put people over the [dasher board] wall.”

4 » Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid confirmed on Wednesday that wide receiver Riley Cooper, who suffered a concussion against the New York Giants last week, has been cleared to return to practice. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Cooper’s concussion was his second with the Eagles (he had one in 2010) and third since he started playing college football.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, September 8th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we try to catch them with Gator Bites. Enjoy.

» Remember back in April when Florida Gators forwards junior Erik Murphy and redshirt freshman Cody Larson were arrested for allegedly trying to break into a car? Since then the felony chargers were reduced to misdemeanors for both parties and Murphy accepted a plea deal that netted him fines, community service and a few other minor penalties. Larson’s situation, on the other hand, is not even close to resolved. The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway reports that he will have a Oct. 31 sentencing date to determine what legal action will be taken against him. He had previously entered a not guilty plea but could change it on the day of sentencing. As individual Florida basketball drills begin this week and practice starts on Oct. 15, according to Brockway, Larson’s status remains up in the air. The duo is currently indefinitely suspended from the team, though the expectation is that Murphy will be reinstated now that his legal situation is settled.

» Gators baseball received a commitment Wednesday evening as outfielder Max White chose to continue his career in Gainesville, FL. Also a left-handed pitcher, White is recovering from shoulder surgery and chose Florida over LSU, Central Florida, N.C. State, Maryland and North Florida, according to the Sun. “I have always wanted to play for Florida,” he told the paper. “To be in the situation where all of my hard work could possibly lead me to play for them — that is a great feeling. I just want to keep at it and I especially do not want them UF to see me slack off.”

» Florida head football coach Will Muschamp is known for his fiery demeanor on the sidelines. This fan video shot from the season opener against Florida Atlantic shows a mini-tantrum he threw during the game.

Read the rest of the Gator Bites (and watch four videos) after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, September 8th

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FOUR (Video) BITS: Wambach’s edge, Madison’s chomp, Tebow’s pass, Cooper’s catch

1 » Former Florida Gators and current U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach recently allowed Gatorade to film an Inside the Edge segment with her as she trained for and played in a Women’s Professional Soccer game with the magicJack. Wambach, who is a starter and the temporary coach for the team, went through her daily regimen and spoke about what it takes to prepare day-in and day-out. Check it out:

2 » Promoting a the new movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 11-year-old actress Bailee Madison proved she may be the cutest Florida fan in Hollywood after she performed the Gator Chomp while telling a story during an interview with the unfunny, bit-stealing host. In order to reduce your pain in watching a Leno interview, OGGOA was able to cut the segment down to just a few seconds. Thanks to reader Craig S. for the heads-up (especially considering this television program is prohibited from being watched at OGGOA headquarters).

Check out two more video BITS of Tebow and Cooper…after the break
Continue Reading » FOUR (Video) BITS: Wambach’s edge, Madison’s chomp, Tebow’s pass, Cooper’s catch

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Punter Chas Henry: “I felt very, very fortunate.”

It is not common for a punter to be one of the best-known players on a football team – unless they make a colossal mistake that costs his squad a game or title. That was not the case for the Florida Gators in 2010 as Chas Henry stood out as a saving grace during the season, saving stalled offensive drives from disaster and (later in the year) doing his part as a kicker to score some points in dire situations.

The 2010 Ray Guy Award winner and one of the team’s most valuable players last season, Henry was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft but was quite popular as an undrafted free agent when the lockout was lifted. Now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, Henry sat down with OGGOA to discuss his new surroundings and look back on an interesting senior year in the Orange & Blue.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s start off by talking about what has been going on with you recently the lockout is finally lifted and teams start calling – how did that go down and what was that situation like for you?
CHAS HENRY: “It happened all of a sudden. I was actually at my girlfriend’s house with her just sitting watching TV and all of a sudden I started getting all of these phone calls. I knew that free agency was supposed to start up at 10 a.m. the following morning, so I was just trying to figure out my plans for the week before I had to report off to camp. I’m sitting on the couch and all of a sudden my phone starts blowing up with the different area codes and everything, so I’m thinking, ‘Something must be going on.’

“First call I got was at 7:04 p.m. from a Houston Texans coach. A few minutes after that I got another call from another team, and a few minutes after that… Within about two hours I had about five different teams contact me. […] We started narrowing down choices, and I spoke to Coach [Andy] Reid and the general manager up here Howie Roseman – a Florida guy, a great Florida guy up here in Philadelphia. I spoke with them and just really liked everything that they had to offer. I was very excited about the possibility of coming up here to play. There’s a couple Florida guys up here with [Cornelius Ingram] and Riley Cooper, and they just told me how much of a great time they’ve had up here and how they really enjoy the coaching staff and players and everything. I felt like it was the best opportunity for me to come in and be a part of.”

AS: I spoke with Duke Lemmens about how the process was for him and he compared it to a mini version of recruiting. Is that how it went for you?
CH: “Exactly. This is the first time I’ve ever been recruited and I’ve had to make a decision like this. When I was recruited to Florida, Coach [Urban] Meyer recruited me and he offered me and I committed right there on the spot. I figured there was no other better place I could go than the University of Florida. I couldn’t pick a better school than the University of Florida. That was the best opportunity I could have ever imagined putting myself into. I told the coaches this time, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever been recruited, so you have to bear with me a little bit.’”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Chas Henry…after the break!
Continue Reading » Punter Chas Henry: “I felt very, very fortunate.”

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Weis, Bradford talk football in Gainesville

If you followed @onlygators on Twitter this summer, you likely saw a tweet or two from OGOGA about St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford spending some time in Gainesville, FL along with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper.

While he was visiting, OGGOA speculated that Bradford very well could have been in town to pick the brain of new Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis considering he was unable to meet with Josh McDaniels, St. Louis’ new offensive coordinator, due to the NFL lockout still being in progress.

Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples actually spoke to Bradford about his trip to Gainesville and, as it turns out, that was the exact reason he stopped by the town of the team that defeated the Oklahoma Sooners for the 2009 BCS Championship.

“They spent time in New England together,” Bradford told Staples, “so their offensive philosophies are fairly similar. Obviously, they don’t run the exact same offense. But I just thought if I could come down and just talk some ball with Coach Weis and get a feel for what his philosophy is, then it could possibly help me try to transition to Josh’s offense.”

Weis, who through a Florida spokesman declined to comment for this story, also showed Bradford a video that helped drive home some of the concepts in the playbook. “I have the playbook. I can look at the paper all I want,” Bradford said. “But it’s a lot different when you actually have someone who can kind of talk you through it — someone who has experienced it, knows what the reads are and can kind of tell you what to expect.”

Photo Credit: Bill Haber/Associated Press

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Gators undrafted free agents agree to deals

Updated July 27 at 3:30 p.m.

The end of the NFL lockout sent the league into a frenzy Monday evening as teams were officially allowed to contact and agree to contracts with undrafted free agents who were not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. With only four Florida Gators picked in the seven-round draft back in April, a number of well-known players remained available heading into one of the most questionable offseasons in pro football history.

With contracts now being signed as names continue to roll in, a number of former Gators have already been picked up to join NFL squads this year.

Everything started Monday evening as linebacker Duke Lemmens chose to stay out west and play for the Arizona Cardinals, defensive tackle Terron Sanders got a call from the Baltimore Ravens, and running back Emmanuel Moody decided to join 2010 undrafted free agent wide receiver David Nelson with the Buffalo Bills.

On Tuesday, punter Chas Henry chose to team up with wide receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Cornelius Ingram on the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive end Justin Trattou decided to play close to home with the New York Giants, and offensive lineman Carl Johnson joined up with DE Alex Brown on the New Orleans Saints.

Wednesday brought two more signings as LB A.J. Jones found a spot with the Denver Broncos and LB Brandon Hicks [unconfirmed] signed with the Bills. Jones joins quarterback Tim Tebow in Denver, while Hicks teams up with Moody and Nelson in Buffalo.

Safety Will Hill was originally reported to have agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins; however, it surfaced Tuesday that those reports were premature and the two sides have not spoken about a contract.

OGGOA spoke with Sanders early Tuesday morning, and he related to us that former Florida defensive coordinator now Baltimore defensive backs coach Teryl Austin had a lot to do with him getting this opportunity with a top-tier franchise.

“Coach Austin, he’s up there now, and he put in a good word for me and told them that I can plug the hole and knock people back,” Sanders said. “He convinced them to take a shot at me. They called my agent, my agent called me and asked me if I’d be interested in going to Baltimore. I told them, ‘Yeah,’ and the deal is done.”

Though he has been hoping the lockout would end and has been keeping in shape, Sanders also kept himself busy with a regular job until his future was known.

“I haven’t put on a pair of shoulder pads in a while,” he said. “I’ve been working out, doing some running, and I started working at U-Haul about two weeks ago just to get some money in my pocket until this was decided.”

Other players who could be signed include WR Carl Moore and defensive lineman Brandon Antwine and Lawrence Marsh.

OGGOA will update this post as additional signings are announced.

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